Three months in, Hanoi rapid bus system set to stay, and thrive

Hanoi has been struggling to cope with a rapidly growing number of vehicles and now finds the need of gearing toward public transportation a task more important than ever.

Three months into what many consider a bold solution for congested roads and one of the most significant changes to the traffic infrastructure in Hanoi, the new rapid transit system (BRT) of Hanoi, which cost $55 million, has started to gain traction among frequent passengers and attract more new riders, despite its rough start.

The capital launched its first BRT route in December 2016, running 14 kilometers (9 miles) between Kim Ma in the inner city and Yen Nghia, one of its most populated areas.

A trip running via main streets including Giang Vo and Lang Ha was expected to take only 30 minutes.

However, within the first weeks of the trial phase, congestion emerged.

The fast bus route is hoped to help reduce personal vehicles, improving economic efficiency.

Hanoi Vice Chairman Nguyen Quoc Hung said during the inauguration ceremony of the city's rapid bus system.

During peak hours, kilometers-long lines of cars and motorbikes jammed the dedicated bus lane, and the new buses were not as fast as expected.

With rapid buses being only five minutes faster than regular ones, the public started to question the effectiveness of the BRT system. Meanwhile, experts blamed people’s traffic behavior and the authority’s failure to keep the BRT lanes "exclusive."

The BRT operators said over 100 cars ran into the bus lane each day, a fourth of which were vehicles used by government officials or military officers.

Check out pictures in the slideshow below to see the BRT lane in its early days.

Honing the rough edges

The month after the city launched its first rapid bus service to mixed results, officials announced a second route, reaffirming the city's push for public transport to curb congestion.

The BRT system is based on the idea that buses can travel faster and more efficiently on lanes of their own. Other vehicles are not allowed to use these lanes or park near BRT stations.

In Hanoi, the special dedicated bus lane is designated on the left side of the road, separated by light reflective road markers, with the exception of traffic jam hotspots where physical barriers were added near bus stops.

The city also restricted motor vehicles on some streets and overpasses during rush hours to facilitate the new service.

In addition, dozens of loudspeakers have been installed in waiting rooms and around intersections to propagate traffic laws, calling on people to switch to the new public transport option.

Keeping the rapid bus lane 'exclusive'

In attempts to improve traffic behavior, police have severely punished hundreds of drivers, of which 80 percent were motorbike-users, who encroached into the dedicated bus lanes.

Millions of VND in fines were handed out to commuters, from drivers of garbage trucks to official state vehicles. Authorities also said they would impose fines on bus lane trespassers using surveillance camera footage.

After a month of persistently implementing a variety of solutions, the rapid bus speed has gradually improved.

Optimistic signs

From an average speed of 14 kilometers per hour initially, now the BRT runs at 20km/h, about 20 percent faster than a normal bus. Over the past three months, the system has transported more than 1.2 million passengers with nearly 30,000 trips, serving an average of 13,600 riders daily.

A survey conducted by BRT operators showed that the new bus system has drawn more people into public transport. Among 2,000 participants in the survey, 23 percent said they have shifted from motorbike, xe om (motorbike taxi) and taxi to the BRT.

To further increase the number of passengers, the system is looking to expand routes, provide more parking space near bus stops and increase frequency in the coming days.

Giang Huy & Ba Do